While some worry about the impact of John McCain’s age on his physical health and his potential longevity in office, others are more concerned about his mental health.
The more than 1500 pages detailing McCain’s medical information do not dispel the notion that the candidate’s notorious temper may be related to his more than five years in a Vietnam prison camp. Reporting on his health in May, the New York Times noted how McCain’s doctors called him robust. The end of the story also noted: “As a prisoner of war, Mr. McCain told doc-tors, he had tried to commit suicide twice. But by 1977, he said he had ‘all but forgotten the traumas of captivity.’ ”
Yet Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) — which is diagnosed in one of eight veterans returning from the hell that is Iraq — did not appear in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1980, seven years after McCain’s release from Hanoi. Anger and depression are two key symptoms of PTSD.
Much has been said about the government’s failure to provide veterans with the medical help they need. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that only 23 percent to 40 percent of soldiers suffering from PTSD seek help because of the stigma the military attaches to psychiatric treatment.
In John McCain: An American Odyssey (Free Press, 2007) author Robert Timberg (who knows, the candidate has said, “more about me than I do”) calls McCain’s legendary rages “out of all proportion to the provocation.” He has also cited the sound of jangling keys as a trigger for McCain’s POW-related nightmares.
Columnist Sidney Blumenthal has quoted McCain as calling colleagues “asshole” and “fucking jerk” on the Senate floor. Even if this were considered “normal” behavior, it would be difficult to classify it as “presidential.”
As with Hillary Clinton’s red telephone commercial, all this raises a question: if the call comes at 3 am, do voters want the awakened president to be prone to disproportionate rages or trauma associated with jangling keys?
McCain’s claim to superior “foreign policy” skills is based on his Vietnam War experience. By that standard, the approximately 500,000 US soldiers who have served in Iraq would be quali-fied to become president, though roughly 80,000 of them will experience post-traumatic stress, and some of them try to commit suicide virtually every day.
In the end, the Arizona senator’s undoing may not be his age, but very life experience that makes him — even to his critics — a war hero.
Some counter by noting that McCain’s mental health is no worse than was Richard Nixon’s — but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
Presidential candidates vie for the faith and confidence of voters. John McCain still has to show that he’s up to the task — and he needs to do it without flying into a rage when someone asks a legitimate question about his mental health.